Symposium Presenters

“In the Sanctuary”: Symposium on Music and the Black Church

Presenter Bios


Born in Gary, West Virginia, James Abbington received his musical education at Morehouse College (B.A.) and the University of Michigan (M.Mus., D.M.A.). He is currently associate professor of church music and worship at Candler School of Theology, Emory University, and adjunct professor of church music at Morehouse College in Atlanta. He was recently reappointed National Director of Music for the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., and has been the executive editor of the African American Church Music Series published by GIA Publications (Chicago) for over twenty years. Abbington is a member of the historic Friendship Baptist Church in Atlanta, where he the director of music ministries and church `organist. Abbington was chair of the core committee – consisting of music directors from the African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Church of God in Christ, Black Episcopalian Church, United Church of Christ (Congregational), Disciples of Christ (Christian Church), and Seventh-day Adventists—for the historic One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism: An African American Ecumenical Hymnal released in 2018. He is the author of numerous articles and publications, including Let the Church Sing On! Reflections on Black Sacred Music (2009); Readings in African American Church Music and Worship, Volume 1 (2001), Volume 2 (2014); and King of Kings: Organ Music of Black Composers, Past and Present, Volume 1 (2008), Volume 2 (2009), Volume 3 (2017), and Volume 4 (2021); and Let Mt. Zion Rejoice! Music in the African American Church (2001). In 2015, Abbington was honored by the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada (HSUSC) by being named a Fellow of the Hymn Society. This award, the highest honor given by the organization, was in response to Abbington’s work as a scholar, editor, and practitioner of church music, with an emphasis upon African-American congregational song. He is the second Black person to receive this honor; the first was Harry T. Burleigh, pioneer of the arranged and concert Negro spiritual, in 1944. His friend and colleague, Robert Batastini (retired vice president and senior editor of GIA Publications), remarked, “In the very DNA of [Abbington] … one would find a compelling devotion for the music of the church, and a compelling passion for being an instrument of that song; endless praise for our God.” He is in constant demand as an organist, lecturer, clinician, choral conductor, consultant, and scholar.


The Rev. Philippe E. C. Andal is a native of Nashville, Tennessee. Following graduation from the historic East Literature Magnet School, he attended Fisk University as an Ella Shepard Moore Scholar where he earned a bachelor of science in business administration as the salutatorian of his class. While at Fisk, he served in multiple leadership capacities in the religious life and student life programs, including being elected by his peers to the highest student office as the student government association president.  In 2016, as a recipient of the Forrest Knapp Scholarship, Rev. Andal received his M.Div. from Yale Divinity School. While there, he continued to serve in multiple leadership capacities, including election to a one-year term as secretary of the Yale Divinity School student council and appointment to both the admissions and the pastoral care faculty search committees. Recognized by the faculty as a dynamic preacher in his class, he was awarded the William E. Downes Prize for Highest Proficiency in Public Reading of the Scriptures and of Hymns and the Jesse H. and Hugo A. Norenberg Prize for Excellence in Preaching and/or the Conduct of Corporate Worship.

In June 2017, Rev. Andal was chosen for a unique international ethics program by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics, which uses the conduct of clergy and other religious leaders in Nazi-occupied Europe as a way to reflect on contemporary professional ethics. Rev. Andal also contributes as a writer for Urban Ministries, Inc.’s Precepts for Living. Rev. Andal has a been blessed to serve at churches across the nation, including Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Nashville, TN; Burnett Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, KY; and Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston, TX. Upon the recommendation of the American Baptist Churches of Connecticut, he was ordained to Christian ministry by the Community Baptist Church (New Haven, CT), and currently serves this congregation as senior pastor.


The Rev. Dr. Charrise Barron is assistant professor of Africana Studies and music at Brown University; she will soon join the faculty at Harvard University as an assistant professor of Music, as well. While her research, writing, and presentations have explored a range of topics in African American music, religion, and culture, her current book, The Platinum Age of Gospel, centers contemporary gospel music and illuminates the marked shifts away from previous eras of gospel performance and culture, which have defined the last thirty years of the genre. Barron earned her Ph.D. from Harvard University in African and African American studies, with secondary study in ethnomusicology. She received the M.Div. summa cum laude from Yale Divinity School, where she was also actively engaged with the Institute of Sacred Music. Dr. Barron is a Forum for Theological Exploration (FTE) Doctoral Fellowship alumna, and a member of the Harvard University Society of Horizons Scholars; she has also taught at Yale as an ISM Postdoctoral Fellow. An ordained Baptist minister, Barron has served as pastor of the Black Church at Yale (now known as BCAY), which is a student-run campus church founded in the early 1970s. Barron has served in music ministry at churches throughout the United States and in London, and she continues to compose and perform gospel music. Dr. Barron most recently composed music for the play The Lawsons: A Civil Rights Love Story, which premiered earlier this year at the Ensemble Theatre in Houston, Texas.


Born in Dayton and raised in Cleveland Ohio, Min. Avis Denise Graves has devoted her life to serving God and his people.  Her mother, noticing her keen sense for music, enrolled her in piano lessons at the young age of three to help develop her God-given talent. It was very important to her mother that she not only develop her musical ability but that she first and foremost develop a relationship with God.

Upon graduating from Spelman College, where she was the student director of the Spelman College Glee Club and a founding member of the Atlanta University Gospel Movement, a consortium of students from Spelman, Morehouse, Clark-Atlanta University, and Morris Brown, which enabled her to share platforms with historic civil rights activists, including Ralph Abernathy, Julian Bond, and Andrew Yount, Min. Graves returned to Cleveland where she continued to serve at her local church, and at several others. Although she had begun to make her mark on her local community and the world through music, she still felt God tugging at her heart and calling her to do more to develop His kingdom on earth, and to move from using the microphone just for singing. In 1995 she graduated from Notre Dame College of Ohio with a master’s degree in education, and is currently pursuing a doctorate in education and organizational leadership, with an emphasis in Christian ministry.

In 1997 she relocated to Charlotte North Carolina where she served as the minister of worship at the Park Church under the leadership of Bishop Claude R. Alexander Jr. In 1999 she preached her initial sermon and was licensed as a minister of the gospel. She continued to serve at the Park Church for 15 years where she groomed a 150 plus member choir, as well as the dance team, drama team, step team, ushers and greeters, and the musician’s guild.  From 2013-2020, Graves served as the assistant to the director of worship & arts at the Church Without Walls in Houston under the leadership of Dr. Ralph Douglas West.

Min. Graves’ life has been nothing but a reflection of Luke 12:48, “…of those to whom much is given much is required.”


The Reverend Rylan Andre Harris is a native of Philadelphia whose musicial and ministerial journey began at the age of four, when he was introduced to the piano. As he grew older and his technique and skills sharpened, he was afforded the chance to open and perform on stage with some of the world’s most renowned artists: Apollo’s Ray Chew & the Crew, Melba Moore, Bishop Hezekiah Walker, Elbernita “Twinkie” Clark, Chrystal Rucker, Kierra Sheard, Brian Courtney Wilson, Darwin Hobbs, Lisa Page Brooks, and Jekalyn Carr, among others

Rev. Harris did his undergraduate studies at the historic Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia, where he served as student director of Hampton Choirs and enjoyed leading and singing with every ensemble, including a chapel choir formed under his direction. At Hampton, he was afforded opportunities such as the humble honor of playing organ for commencement during his freshman year — just feet away from the 44th President of the United States of America, President Barack H. Obama!

A sought-after preacher, worship leader, singer, musician, and speaker, Rev. Harris was called to the Gospel Ministry of Jesus Christ in 2011, preaching his first sermon on April 4, 2012, on the campus of Hampton University. After much prayer, study, and observation, his father formally licensed him in 2015, which was followed by his official ordination in 2021.

He released his first single, “In Spite of Me,which was followed by his debut LIVE Recording in July 2017. His group GLORY was officially formed in the same year and together in November 2019, they released their freshman project entitled “Hide Me Behind the Cross: LIVE In Philadelphia.” Rev. Harris currently serves as minister of worship & arts at Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, GA under the pastorate of the Rev. Dr. Cynthia L. Hale. A proud and active member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity of America, Inc., and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., he is currently completing a master of religious leadership degree at Emory University, Candler School of Theology, with a concentration in worship and music, after which he will look to pursue the Th.M. and Doctor of Philosophy degrees.

Above all else, Rev. Harris is a proud advocate for the preservation of the Black Church, its sound and its music, its history, its defining role and relevance in society on all levels, and its necessary sustainability for the generations not yet born.


Wife, mother, and musician Mrs. Charletta Mack Hines was born in Salisbury, Maryland to the late Rev. Dr. Charles H. Mack and the late Gladys Roberts Mack, where her formative years were shaped by this small-town community nestled on the Eastern Shore, and by life in the church. The eldest of three children, Mrs. Hines always loved music and singing and began taking piano lessons at the age of age five. Emulating her father, the pastor of St. James AME Zion Church, she played for the St. James Junior Choir. She received her education in the public schools of Wicomico County, afterwards receiving a B.A. in music education from Livingstone College, the chief institution of the AME Zion Church. At Livingstone, she sang in the concert choir and the Livingstone Prayer Meeting Gospel Choir. Mrs. Hines taught music for grades K-5 in Durham, Orange, and Currituck counties of North Carolina. She retired with thirty years of service while teaching in Person County, North Carolina. A lifelong learner, she has studied music and method studies at North Carolina Central University, Appalachian State University, and East Carolina University. She has served as the minister of music at Kyles Temple AME Zion Church for forty years. Her gift has opened the door for opportunities outside of the classroom, as she has recorded with the Durham Community Choir, as well as the Martin Luther King Community Choir and Ensemble. She recently recorded and toured with Dr. Braxton Shelley and Testimony.


Bishop W. Darin Moore is a native of Mt. Vernon who obtained his B.A. in psychology from Purchase College. Later, he completed his theological studies at Yale Divinity School, and earned an M.Div. and Doctor of Ministry from United Theological Seminary; he received an honorary doctorate from Livingstone College. Pastoral assignments for Moore have included the Clarksville and Morning Star AME Zion Churches, Mt. Olivet AME Zion Church, and Jones Tabernacle AME Zion Church. Moore has served two terms as president of the board of directors for the Greater Indianapolis Church Federation, and was the presiding elder of the Indianapolis District for the AME Zion Church. In 1993, he became pastor of his home church, Greater Centennial AME Zion Church, where he served faithfully until his election as a bishop. In 2012, Moore was elevated to the episcopacy from Greater Centennial A.M.E. Zion Church as the 99th bishop in succession. During his tenure as pastor of Greater Centennial, the congregation grew from a few hundred members to more than 6,500. Moore served two consecutive terms as president of the Mount Vernon board of education; he has also served as president of the United Black Clergy of Westchester, the founding chairperson for Save Our Seed Ministries, and a member of the Westchester County African American Advisory Board. In addition, Moore is founder and former president of the Greater Centennial Community Development Corporation, as well as the Greater Centennial Homes, where he led in the construction of the James Varick Homes for first-time homebuyers, and a $12m renovation of Greater Centennial Homes. Moore has been twice selected as the morning preacher for the Hampton Ministers’ Conference, an annual gathering of more than 10,000 ministers and musicians from around the country. His sermons have been published in The African American Pulpit Forum and the Balm in Gilead Journal. Moore is the presiding bishop of the Mid-Atlantic Episcopal District, which includes the Allegheny, Barbados, East Tennessee and Virginia, Guyana-Suriname, Philadelphia and Baltimore, Ohio, St. Vincent, and Virginia Conferences. His personal theme: “It’s our OUTREACH that validates our UP REACH!”


The Rev. Dr. Luke A. Powery is the dean of Duke University Chapel and associate professor of homiletics at Duke Divinity School. A national leader in the theological study of the art of preaching (homiletics), Powery regularly delivers sermons at Duke Chapel as well as at churches throughout the United States and abroad. He is often a keynote speaker and lecturer at educational institutions, conferences, symposia, and retreats.

His teaching and research interests are located at the intersection of preaching, worship, pneumatology, and culture, particularly expressions of the African diaspora. He is the author of Spirit Speech: Lament and Celebration in PreachingDem Dry Bones: Preaching, Death, and HopeRise Up, Shepherd! Advent Reflections on the Spirituals; and Were You There? Lenten Reflections on the Spirituals. He has co-authored an introductory textbook on preaching, Ways of the Word: Learning to Preach for Your Time and Place. He is also a general editor of the nine-volume lectionary commentary series for preaching and worship titled Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship.

Powery was ordained by the Progressive National Baptist Convention and has served in an ecumenical capacity in churches throughout Switzerland, Canada and the United States. He is a member of the Academy of Homiletics, for which he has served as secretary; the American Academy of Religion; and the Society for the Study of Black Religion. Powery served as a member of the executive lectionary team for The African-American Lectionary and is the recipient of numerous scholastic fellowships and awards. In 2008, the African-American Pulpit named him one of twenty outstanding black ministers under the age of 40 who are helping shape the future direction of the church. More recently, in 2014, he was inducted into the Martin Luther King Jr. Collegium of Scholars at Morehouse College for his ethical and spiritual leadership in the academy, church, and broader society.

Prior to his appointment at Duke, he served as the Perry and Georgia Engle Assistant Professor of Homiletics at Princeton Theological Seminary. He received his bachelor of arts in music with a concentration in vocal performance from Stanford University, his master of divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, and his doctor of theology from Emmanuel College at the University of Toronto.


Prof. Braxton D. Shelley, associate professor of music, of sacred music, and divinity, came to Yale to teach, to continue his path-breaking work as a theorist of African American sacred music, and to serve as faculty director of the new Interdisciplinary Program in Music and the Black Church housed in the ISM. He is a scholar, an ordained minister, and an experienced church musician.

A native of North Carolina, Prof. Shelley graduated with highest distinction from Duke University where he majored in music and minored in history. He then entered the Ph.D. program in the history and theory of music at the University of Chicago. While finishing his Ph.D., he also earned a Master of Divinity degree at the University of Chicago Divinity School, upon which he was ordained in the Missionary Baptist church. In 2017, he was appointed assistant professor of music at Harvard University, where he  taught until accepting the Yale appointment.

Prof. Shelley is one of the most celebrated musicologists of his generation and on his way to be one of the most celebrated in any generation. He was awarded the Paul A. Pisk Prize in 2016 by the American Musicological Society (AMS) for the best paper by a graduate student. In 2018, he won the Dean’s Distinguished Dissertation Award from the University of Chicago’s Division of the Humanities. His field-changing article “Analyzing Gospel,” which appeared in the Journal of the AMS, was awarded prizes from all three major American professional societies for music studies: the Einstein Award from the AMS, the Kunst Prize from the Society of Ethnomusicology, and the Adam Krims Award from the Popular Music Interest Group of the Society of Music Theory.

Prof. Shelley’s first book, Healing for the Soul: Richard Smallwood, the Vamp, and the Gospel Imagination, was published this year by Oxford University Press and was hailed by Prof. Cornel West as “the best book written on Gospel Music.”

A second book, under contract with the University of California Press, is entitled An Eternal Pitch: Bishop G.E. Patterson and the Afterlives of Ecstasy. It analyzes the great preacher’s musical style, his use of radio and other media, and the digital reverberation of his ministry after his death in 2007.

Prof. Shelley already has nearly a dozen articles and book chapters in press or published. He is also a frequent guest lecturer and clinician.


A multi-gifted member of the Body of Christ, the Reverend Rodney A. Teal, Esq. has been intimately involved in ministry for more than thirty years as a church administrator, minister of music, preacher, author and teacher. He proudly serves as the pastor of the historic Jerusalem Baptist Church of Washington, D.C. (Old Georgetown). Prior to assuming pastoral duties at Jerusalem, Rev. Teal served as executive assistant to the senior minister (Rev. Dr. Leonard N. Smith) at the Mount Zion Baptist Church (Arlington, VA). Rev. Teal was licensed by the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church (Alexandria, VA). He is also an attorney and has worked as a litigator, clerk of court, and court administrator.  In addition, he serves as an adjunct instructor at the Lancaster Bible College (political science & business law).

Rev. Teal earned a B.S. in civil engineering from VPI&SU (Virginia Tech), an M.B.A. from Radford University, a J.D. from Washington & Lee University, and an M.Div. from Howard University.  His passion is preaching — from pulpit, choir stand, or lecture podium — trumpeting the Word of the Lord with power, clarity, and integrity.

Pastor Teal has been privileged to proclaim the Word of God in pulpits in D.C., Virginia, and Maryland and in venues as varied as the Hampton University Ministers’ Conference; the Christian Education Summit of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.; the Greater Washington Christian Education Association; the Gospel Music Workshop of America (GMWA); and the City-Wide Revival (Washington, D.C.).  His ground-breaking work on the practical theology of praise and worship is published in Readings in African American Church Music and Worship, Volume 2, ed. James Abbington (GIA Publications, 2014).

Rev. Teal currently serves as treasurer of the Baptist Convention of D.C. & vicinity.  He is the general secretary of the House of Paul Ecumenical (H.O.P.E.), an organization committed to the care and covering of pastors and ministers of the Gospel.  Rev. Teal is a long-time member of the senior support staff of the GMWA, serving as the chair of the performance division and as special assistant to the board chair (Bishop Albert L. Jamison, Sr.) with responsibilities ranging from contract negotiation to fiscal planning to music administration. In addition, Pastor Teal lends his homiletic, administrative and musical talents to the Kingdom work of many other denominational, religious, and civic organizations.


Louise Toppin has received critical acclaim for her operatic, orchestral, oratorio and recital performances world-wide.

Represented by Joanne Rile Artist Management, she appeared for many years in Gershwin shows with Leon Bates and Joseph Joubert as pianists, tenor Bill Brown and baritone Robert Sims.  She has recorded nineteen CDs, including Ah love, but a day (women composers), La saison des fleurs (song of the 18th and 19th centuries with fortepiano) and Songs of Love and Justice, Vol. I (songs of Adolphus Hailstork) released in June of 2021.

She has released nine anthologies and a choral work with Classical Vocal Reprints and Hildegard Press in 2020-2021 including An Anthology of African and African Diaspora Songs (songs for the university student) and Rediscovering Margaret Bonds (many previously unpublished songs).

Recent engagements include co-curating and performing in a festival on Black Music in Hamburg, Germany with Thomas Hampson, Leah Hawkins, and Larry Brownlee; performing as soloist with the Experiential Orchestra in New York (October); as recitalist for the Oxford Lieder Festival in England (October); and a residency with Duke University as a scholar/artist (November). She performed at the 150th celebration of the ratification of the 13th amendment for Congress and President Obama at the U.S. Capitol, with the New Generation Project touring with Marquita Lister, and in “Masters of the Spirituals” in Lincoln Center, which is touring currently.  

In addition to serving on the education committee for the Denyce Graves Foundation, she is on the boards of Opera Ebony and The Hampsong Foundation.  Louise Toppin is co-founder and director of the George Shirley Vocal Competition and Videmus (promoting the African American music) and founder of the research tool. She is professor of music (voice) at the University of Michigan. 


G. Preston Wilson, Jr. hails from Durham, NC, where he attended public schools and where his love of music was cultivated. He was very active in his church and in his community. In the seventh grade, he was anointed and called to play the organ at his home church, Refiner’s Fire Community Church, where Dr. Willie L. Jones, II is the Pastor. In his junior year he moved to the keyboards and was promoted to assistant musical director, a position he held until he left for college.

He received his bachelor of science in music education from Fisk University, where he was a member of the world-renowned, Grammy award-winning Fisk Jubilee Singers® under the direction of Dr. Paul T. Kwami. As a member of the Jubilee singers, he performed in Ghana and Spain and was featured on the recording project Sacred Journey. He received a master of music degree in choral music education from Bowling Green State University, where he was awarded the Winifred O. Stone Graduate Fellowship and was named the Presidential Graduate Scholar.

After graduating from Bowling Green, he taught in the Toledo Public School system. At Start High School, he oversaw five ensembles and the school dance team, and served as an advisor for the African American Culture Club. He was also the vocal coach and co-director for the Toledo Youth Choir, a community youth ensemble, and taught voice and piano for the Mustard Seed Academy of Arts.  In addition, he served on the music ministry at Friendship Baptist Church, under the leadership of Bishop Duane C. Tisdale, where he was the principal accompanist, directed the Youth and Young Choir, and served as worship leader for district and state Full Gospel events.

Dr. Wilson earned a Ph.D. in music education from the University of Missouri – Columbia. His dissertation focused on the lived experiences of urban music educators. His other research interests include the interrogation of music curriculum pedagogy through a critical race lens and practical applications of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the contemporary classroom. He was awarded the prestigious Mizzou 18 Award, given to selected graduate students for their outstanding research, collaboration with faculty and staff, and demonstrated leadership with undergraduate students.

Bios provided by the presenters